A tool for turning “showrooming” to your advantage

QR codes are just about everywhere these days. According to the Multichannel Merchant Outlook 2012-2013: eCommerce survey and report, the percentage of merchants using the scannable square bar codes has jumped exponentially compared with last year. Fully 47% of merchants are using QR codes now, compared with just 8% a year ago — a more than four-fold increase.

The survey revealed that the majority of participants used QR codes in direct postal mail pieces, perhaps as a means of qualifying for summer price breaks on offer from the U.S. Postal Service for mailers that include QR codes. Printed catalogs were the top means for sharing QR codes, used by 63.2% of those survey respondents using QR codes.

Data on QR code usage from MultiChannel Merchant

But although it may not buy them a price break at the postage meter, another use for QR codes is just as vital, not to mention potentially profitable. For merchants with physical store locations, QR codes can help combat “showrooming,” — the practice of using bricks-and-mortar outlets to see, touch and try products before using mobile devices to seek the lowest price online, often from a different brand.

While “showrooming” behavior is believed to hurt bricks-and-mortar merchants, the ability to access online information that complements the in-store experience can be a boon to shoppers, and has the potential to help drive in-store sales. In fact, new data from Deloitte suggests that consumers’ in-store mobile activities are contributing to, not taking away from, in-store sales: smartphone shoppers are 14% more likely to convert and make a purchase in the store than non-smartphone users, according to the study.

QR codes are a powerful way way merchants can swing in-store research behavior in their favor. Because they lead to a specific piece of content, QR codes can help merchants direct shoppers well beyond basic product research to in-depth information that supports the purchase decision.

As we pointed out early this year, it’s crucial to consider QR codes as part of a larger mobile strategy; if you don’t have the basics of mobile commerce in place, it’s probably better to tackle them first before leaping to offer QR codes throughout stores. But if your mobile house is in order, QR codes could be a worthwhile addition to the arsenal, especially with the holiday season coming up. Consider using QR codes to:

Spotlight expert advice and how-tos. Content that demonstrates how items on store shelves can be put to use helps motivate purchasing. The Gap used a QR code to link in-store shoppers to styling advice for a new line of trousers, along with customer reviews.

QR code example from Gap

Link to buying guides and product comparisons. Help shoppers faced with an array of products sort through the options by using a QR code to link to detailed comparisons and recommendations. For the coming holiday season, adapt gift guides to the mobile format and make them available to store shoppers via QR code.

Offer exclusive in-store deals. As an incentive to purchase immediately in stores, consider offering discounts via QR code. To keep the discount offer from breaking your budget, limit it to selected products or set the coupon code to expire within a short time frame — such as within the hour.

Create affinity with the brand and other customers. QR codes can connect in-store shoppers with the community of brand followers, thereby demonstrating how the products on offer fit with shoppers’ lifestyles. Outdoor retaler REI invites in-store shoppers to see how other members of its loyalty club are spending their annual dividend through a QR code displayed in-store — thereby showcasing the brand’s community as well as its selection of products.

QR code example from REI
Are you planning QR campaigns for the coming holiday season? How are you using QR codes in-store to help drive purchases?

QR codes are everywhere, but are they right for you?

During the holiday season, QR codes seemed to be everywhere, from store shelves to print and even online media marketing campaigns. And in theory, it’s easy to see why: the square two-dimensional bar codes can be scanned using smartphone apps, enabling on-the-spot access to specific online information about products or brands.

But despite their ubiquity, usage of QR codes and other 2D bar codes lags behind the proliferation of technologies available to create them. According to industry researcher Forrester, usage of 2D bar codes has quadrupled in the past year, but still only represents 5% of mobile phone owners overall. Even among smartphone owners, just 15% have scanned 2D bar codes, Forrester found.

Chart from Forrester Research showing QR codes

So while it’s tempting for merchants to jump on the QR bandwagon — they sure look cool, don’t they? — it’s imperative to fit QR code promotions into a larger mobile strategy that’s tailored to your brands audience. We’ll take a comprehensive look at mobile trends  for 2012 after the New Year; meantime, when weighing whether to add QR promotions to the first-quarter to-do list, consider:

  • Your demographics. Not only should your target audience include plenty of smartphone owners, but Forrester also found that 2D barcodes appealed primarily to Gen Y and Gen X consumers — 66% of those who had scanned a 2D barcode were between the ages of 23 and 45. More affluent consumers are likewise more apt to have tried 2D scanning, with 62% earning $70,000 per year or more annually.
  • Your state of mobile readiness, online and off. Most QR codes send shoppers to a landing page, be it in-depth information about a product, or a call to action such as subscribing to email updates. Whatever the target content, it should be optimized for mobile — a piece of advice that ought to go without saying, but in practice bears repeating. Forrester found that about only about half of 2D code targets were mobile-friendly. For example, this print advertisement from a beauty manufacturer links to a video in Flash, which isn’t widely supported on mobile platforms — potentially frustrating readers who were interested enough to scan the code.

Magazine ad featuring a QR codeScreen shot showing Flash error on mobile phone

Even if you plan to use QR codes exclusively in a bricks-and-mortar location where consumers can buy in person, it’s key to provide other product-related functionality — such as the ability to send product information to a friend and share on social networks. It’s also important to train in-store staff to use QR codes so they can assist customers who have questions about the process.

And if you want to use QR codes to boost online purchasing, you should prioritize making your mobile site transaction-enabled if it isn’t already. Add that functionality first before using QR codes to promote products. Otherwise, scanning a QR code may lead shoppers to a dead end.

  • Your product offering. QR codes can boost the convenience factor for consumers shopping for certain products, including:
    • Feature-rich products. Whether shopping for appliances, computers, jewelry  or running watches, consumers are likely to want to access detailed specifications before committing to purchases — making a quick QR code link an ideal way to give them the information they need on the go. Post-purchase, QR codes can quickly connect buyers to detailed product manuals and to customer support resources.
    • Products with built-in replenishment timelines. Merchants selling everything from moisturizer to windshield wiper blades can facilitate reordering by including QR codes on packaging or in email reminders to buyers. The QR codes boost convenience for consumers, who don’t have to remember specific part numbers, the right battery size the gadget needs, or which tint of makeup they originally chose (was it Bronze Glow or Bronze Dawn?).

If you’ve tried them, what QR code promotions have worked for your business?